Community Foundations

By: Alexandra Gartmann   |   CEO - Foundation For Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR)   |

As we hurtle towards the end of the calendar year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the increasing impact and prevalence of place-based philanthropy. The annual Community Foundation Annual Forum in the Barossa Valley in September reinforced the untapped power that Community Foundations (CFs) have to support local activities, and facilitate grass-roots philanthropy.

There are many people who choose to ‘give where you live’, sometimes via Community Foundations. Some larger Trusts and Foundations are also choosing to partner with local Community Foundations, tapping into their network, knowledge and expertise. At FRRR, we see the impact of such partnerships through the likes of the Sidney Myer ‘Back to School’ program, and the Tomorrow:Today Foundation’s annual small grants program in Benalla.

But there are hundreds of people who know nothing about the power of Community Foundations. So I have a New Year resolution (which I am implementing early!) to take every opportunity I can to tell people about the way in which Community Foundations are making a difference!

What is a community foundation?

So, let me start at the beginning. For those who aren’t familiar with Community Foundations, they are an extremely effective way of developing and delivering place-based philanthropy. They can be cause-based, but are more typically focused on a particular geographic area, enabling donors to channel philanthropic investments to a particular location, thereby creating and growing a local culture of philanthropy.

CFs often start as a result of local leaders’ desire to create a new future, enabled via a locally owned and focused organisation that targets a particular community need. Many end up doing something in relation to education – whether that’s providing scholarships for students, funding resources for local educational institutions, delivering Youth in Philanthropy programs or participating in the FRRR-Sidney Myer Fund Back to School program.

Connecting like-minded people

At present, there are around 35 Community Foundations operating across Australia, the majority in rural and regional areas. In the last twelve months, we are aware of four new CFs, although there could be more. We don’t know exactly how many CFs are in operation, although we soon will thanks to a project being undertaken by Australian Community Philanthropy (with capacity building funding from FRRR and the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, who are  themselves a CF). The Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and its CEO, Catherine Brown, are also committed to promoting the benefits of community philanthropy – smart giving based on understanding community needs and engaging partners and donors to make a real impact. This co-funded work will give us a national picture of CFs, and help identify key challenges and possible approaches to strengthen CFs.

The other benefit in mapping the CF’s currently in operation is to connect them into the Australian Community Philanthropy Network. Because running a CF isn’t easy: it requires a group of dedicated people to get started and to maintain momentum. They have common issues and challenges - some of which were discussed at the Annual Forum – such as building a corpus; deciding which projects to support; and maintaining momentum. The value of events like the Annual Forum is that those running a CF – be they a part-time Executive Officer or a Board Member – soon realise they aren’t the only ones facing these challenges. I saw first-hand the confidence people gained from sharing their concerns and hearing others’ stories.

An opportunity to broaden the support & funding base

A challenge common to CFs is connecting with Private Ancillary Funds (PAFs), many of whom are already gifting but perhaps not to an area to which they are connected. Often times, they simply don’t know about CFs. We therefore need to raise the profile of CF’s among PAFs and other potential contributors. We also need to address some of the misconceptions, such as there being no way for a DGR2 to make a tax deductible gift to a CF, nor to directly influence how funds are distributed. These are all obstacles that can be easily overcome – sometimes with the help of FRRR.

If you don’t know much about CF’s I encourage you to visit the Australian Community Philanthropy website, or give me a call. And if you do, perhaps you can also take up the challenge to help spread the word.

Before I close, I want to thank Leanne, Anita and their colleagues in Foundation Barossa who hosted this year’s Annual Forum. The vibe at the Forum was strong and positive, and it was so pleasing to see that some people who last year said that their Foundation was struggling, have turned the corner thanks to unexpected bequests or donations. For others, the groundwork they put into raising awareness of their Foundation several years ago is starting to pay dividends. Another highlight was the spirit of collaboration and willingness to share ideas. I, for one, felt privileged to be part of this year’s CFF.

So – who wants join me in this New Year resolution?


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Dec. 13, 2013

 Tags: community foundations

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